Sunday, December 05, 2004

Finding Your Windstorm Policy

Many homeowners on the beach are finding it difficult if not impossible to lay their hands on the full text of the Citizens Property Insurance Co. Wind-Only policy contract in effect before July 2004.

Why would you want it? For at least six reasons:

1. Sure, you may have been mailed the Declarations page that summarizes coverage and policy limits, but the full text contract language will govern everything else your adjuster is doing, from applying contract definitions for the purpose of classifying the types of perils and losses you are claiming, to valuing your property. "The devil is in the details," as they say, and in this case the details are in the exact text of the insurance contract language.

2. If you are on an annual windstorm insurance renewal cycle that falls between September 17 and July 1 every year, the 2004 changes to the high-risk (i.e. beach) Florida Wind-only policy do not apply to any hurricane (i.e. "Hurricane Ivan") suffered before your renewal date. In other words, if your policy was last renewed on or before June 30, 2004, your Ivan-related losses are covered under that policy contract and not the new one that took effect July 1, 2004.

3. Many beach homeowners are discovering that they do not have a confirming copy of their applicable Wind-only insurance policy with Citizens. This may be because Citizens Insurance neglected to send it, the homeowner somehow misplaced it, or the policy contract was lost in the storm.

4. A number of insurance adjusters are telling claimants that such-and-such is not covered, but when pressed they will confess that they don't have a copy of your windstorm policy -- they are working mostly from summaries, instruction sheets, forms, and "adjuster" software created by unknown persons with who-knows-how-many-mistakes. The adjusters may be happy to take these instructons and use the software on little more than faith, but you shouldn't be.

5. As the wildly varying "adjuster" experiences of beach homeowners will attest, there is enormous room for differing interpretations by adjusters of the wind-only policy language. If you want to protect your rights to insurance coverage you've been paying for, you need to read the fine print of the relevant policy to inform yourself. An anonymously-authored summary simply won't do.

6. Last, Florida's Department of Financial Services (which now encompasses the formerly-known-as Insurance Department) has been doing a terrible job of making the full text of outstanding policies available to insureds. I've heard from several people that telephone and mail requests for the "policy jacket" on wind insurance with Citizens are chronically unheeded. As for web access, the Florida Department of Financial Services oh-so-thoughtfully provides insurance adjusters with access to your policy by assigning them special login codes. But they won't let YOU, the insured, access your own policy!

Luckily, for whatever reason, webmasters working for Citizens Property Insurance Co. have left the most recent pre-July 2004 on the web, although there is no ready link to it. We won't disclose how we found it. But if you act fast you can download a copy (in pdf format) by going directly here: Citizens Property Insurance Co. (Florida Windstorm "High Risk" Residential Dwelling Policy) No. CIT DW2 7/02

To be sure, the document bears a "07/02" date but that is the most recent copy of the wind-only policy contract authored by Citizens Property Insurance before the July 2004 changes. It was supplemented by mid-year policy amendments, or as the insurance jargon has it, 'endorsements.'

Even after downloading the policy contract, you should continue to press the company -- and the Florida Department of Financial Services -- for a full copy of your entire "policy jacket" to be sure you have all the relevant documents, amendments, correspondence, etc. One place to begin is by calling the DFS "Consumer Help" line at 1-800-342-2762

Good luck, everyone.

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